Many of us have that one person in our life that is difficult to choose a gift for. After hours of searching online and in your local stores, you might just give in and get them an Amazon gift card. While gift cards are nice, they can feel impersonal. Most of us strive to get our friends and family something that means something, or at the very least, something that they need. If the aforementioned person happens to be a photographer, then you’ve come to the right place. Below is a list of things that I own (or HAVE owned) and would appreciate if I, myself, received them as a gift.
1 - Xume Filter Adapters
If a photographer has had much experience with lens filters, they’ve probably mis-threaded one or gotten one stuck on your lens. It also takes some time to get them on. The Xume system solves that. One screws into the filter threads, and the other screws onto the filter. It’s magnetic, so they stick together instantly. The magnets are strong, so they don’t fall off, but are pulled off easily enough. If you buy this system, though, you might consider buying one of Xume’s magnetic lens caps as the existing lens cap will not work on the new filter adapter. Another thing to note is that you have to buy the right size. To find the filter size, look at the front of the lens you want to buy the filter for and look for the following symbol: Ø -this will be followed by a number in millimeters (mm).
2 - ND (Neutral Density) Filters
If you’ve ever seen a picture of a waterfall where the water looks smooth and silky or a night photo with streaking lights, then, more than likely, the person taking the picture was using a ND filter. The ND filter acts like a pair of sunglasses, but for your lens. It reduces the light coming through the lens so that the photographer can use slower shutter speeds to blur and smooth the water, lights, or clouds. For this purpose, I would suggest a 6-stop ND filter or darker (higher number).
ND filters can also be used in flash photography to enable the photographer to use a wider aperture in brighter light. If your photographer already owns a flash, an ND filter might be helpful. Look for a 3-stop or 6-stop filter.
3 - An Inexpensive Flash
All of the cheaper flashes out there, that I know of, are manual which simply means that they don’t operate automatically. This is generally not a problem, but if your photographer ends up using flash a lot, they can upgrade to a more expensive flash later. There are many options for inexpensive flashes out there, but I’ll give you two brands to consider: Yongnuo and Flashpoint. Yongnuo’s 560 version IV flashes are very popular and are only $60-70. In the future, I recommend also buying the 560tx controller so that the flash can be used off-camera. The other flash I would recommend is the Flashpoint R2. It lists for $65 dollars. There are a couple of things that set the Flashpoint system apart, though. Not only does it have high speed sync (HSS), but the R2 transmitter can control and trigger all of the Flashpoint flashes AND their line of strobes, so when someone wants to upgrade to a strobe, they don’t need to invest in a whole new system.
4 - MagMod
If your friend or loved one has a flash already, consider getting them a MagMod product. The MagMod 2 Basic Kit comes with a rubber attachment (the MagGrip) for flashes that contains magnets - each accessory also has magnets, so they all easily attach, nearly instantly, to the MagGrip. This is extremely helpful and can increase speed and efficiency when setting up for a shoot or adapting during a shoot.
5 - Batteries
Every photographer needs batteries, whether it be for their camera, flash, or other accessories. I recommend that you stick with the name brand camera batteries, but for AA and AAA batteries, my favorites are by Eneloop. They come pre-charged, retain their charge for a very long time, and can be recharged more times than many batteries.
6 - Atmosphere Aerosol
One of the favorite items to have in my bag, Atmosphere Aerosol adds a little something special to many photo shoots. It adds, well, atmosphere to your photos, if used correctly. You might call it “fog in a can”, but what it really provides is “haze”. It diffuses into the air and enhances any backlight that might be in the shot. It works beautifully for natural light or with strobes or flashes.
7 - YN-603 II Triggers
While I do use the Flashpoint system for triggering and controlling flashes and strobes, I still use the YN-603 Triggers for other reasons. They’re small and super handy for remotely triggering a camera’s shutter. This can be useful for taking group photos if the photographer want to be in them, taking self-portraits, or triggering a camera on a pole like a painter’s pole or monopod. I’ve triggered my camera on a painter’s pole to gain a drone-like perspective for real estate photography (exteriors) and portraits (see below).
8 - Lens ball
This item is, admittedly, a novelty product. They can be insanely fun to use and is fairly inexpensive. Lens balls are, essentially, glass spheres. The key is to not settle for the cheaper ones as they aren’t made for photography and can lack sharpness. See below for an example image.
9 - “Nifty Fifty”
The 50mm 1.8 lens, sometimes called the “nifty fifty” or the “plastic fantastic”, is probably the number one thing I recommend for new photographers looking for a way to improve their photography or expand their kit. With this lens, a photographer can shoot better in low light and improve their portraits by helping to isolate a subject by blurring the background.
10 - Reflector
If someone is getting interested in shooting portraits, I first recommend the 50mm lens, as stated above, then I recommend getting the Westcott 40" 5-in-1 reflector. Reflectors are pretty inexpensive and do a lot to improve portraits. Some people use a flash, on-camera, to fill in shadows on people’s faces, but that technique is not only more expensive, but often has a distinct look to it that some of us want to avoid. The downside to using a reflector is that a second person is needed to hold it while the photographer takes the picture.
11 - Cleaning Supplies
Cleaning one’s camera and lenses is an often overlooked but necessary task. To keep gear operating properly and to keep pictures from coming out blurry, proper cleaning must be done. My two favorite cleaning items are the LensPen and the Giottos Rocket-Air Blower. I first blow as much dust and dirt off of my lens elements as possible with the blower, then brush more off with the LensPen’s brush, blow again, then clean off the oils from fingerprints with the other end of the Lens Pen. This method has worked well for me for most cleanings. The third item that is handy to have on hand is the disposable lens wipes made by Zeiss. They can be used for camera lenses, glasses, or anything else you need to clean in a pinch.
12 - Flashlight
You may be surprised to find this on my list, but since I’ve been carrying this flashlight with me everywhere, I’ve wondered how I’ve ever functioned without it. As far as photography goes, my specific use for it is when shooting a portrait in low light. Most cameras have difficulty acquiring focus in low light, so when I am about to take the picture, I ask the person or people to close their eyes, shine the flashlight on them while acquiring focus, then let them open their eyes again while I take the picture. Also, at the end of a wedding, for example, it is useful for helping me find all of my gear if it’s dark outside.
13 - Memory Card Reader
If the person that you’re buying a gift for uses multiple card types like me, they might benefit from a card reader that reads all of those cards. I use Compact Flash, SD, and MicroSD cards, so it’s handy to only have to reach for one gadget to take care of transferring all of the data to my computer.
14 - Extra Memory Cards?
In my opinion, just about every photographer needs more memory cards. Just verify what type they use before buying. Also, they should be replaced every few years, so keep that in mind. SD cards seem to be the most popular, but they come in many sizes and speeds. The one listed is a good all-around card, but you can always research their camera to be sure.
15 - Education
This is arguably the most important category on the list. People tend to gravitate toward gear and gadgets to improve their photography, and while those sometimes help, the most significant growth will come through learning and understanding the art, philosophy, and techniques involved in photography. I’ve watched a ton of YouTube videos, and while you can learn almost anything from YouTube, it can be invaluable to find an actual class that focuses on what you want to learn. There are many sites to choose from, but one of my favorites in CreativeLive. Don’t be daunted by their prices. Just sign up for an account and you’ll be emailed when they have a bunch of classes at a discount. The best sales reduce the prices as low as $15. Never pay full price! Lynda.com is another good resource, but it is a subscription service, so if you buckle down and take a bunch of classes, it will be well worth the money.
If you’re more of a book person, take a look at our staff picks:
Mark Morris: Picture Perfect Posing by Roberto Valenzuela
Stanley Harper: Captured by the Light by David Ziser
Aaron Taylor: Picture Perfect Lighting by Roberto Valenzuela
Thanks for reading! Now, don’t be afraid of buying the wrong thing. I’m a strong advocate for including gift receipts with purchases. That way, the recipient doesn’t even need to start that awkward conversation, or worse, get stuck with the wrong thing.
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